It’s time to start respecting college soccer

Football and basketball will always be king of the college sports world. Baseball is a national pastime, while postseason hockey tends to thrill even casual sports fans. Soccer has been the newcomer, at least in terms of fan interest, in American college athletics, but with the games’ popularity beginning to explode, it’s time to start respecting the sport. 

Soccer has always been a tough sell in America. With the more violent and action-packed game of football being played in the fall, the low-scoring contests on the soccer pitch have been largely disregarded. Over the past decade, the game’s popularity has begun to increase. In 2014, 5.1 million people tuned in to watch USA take on Belgium in the Round of 16. However, the US national team has been declining since that game, struggling to even attain international relevance, and the MLS has not gained a lot of traction among American soccer fans, who tend to prefer the more competitive European leagues. 

College soccer is by far the best non-international option to grow the game in America. Many people prefer college sports to professional sports, and soccer is no different. The MLS game is played at a slower pace, with too many 0-0 draws, and it’s slowly becoming a place for aging European stars to enjoy one last ride, but the collegiate game is played dynamically, with the speed and offense that make the game a little more entertaining. Yet, ESPN and other major sports channels would rather televise football preview shows and old reruns than a high-octane ACC soccer clash. If you Google “top college soccer games of 2019”, about half of the top results are about college football. While there are still some low-scoring games, the natural collegiate rivalries in soccer make games more exciting than the MLS, and parity is increasing rapidly.

This past year, ten top-5 teams lost to unranked opponents, many in high-scoring battles. Underdogs often build their teams to survive sustained attacks from more skilled opponents, but they feature dynamic playmakers on offense that can turn a game in an instant. UCLA outlasted #3 Akron in a 3-2 thriller this year, and unranked Memphis stunned a top-five SMU team with a 4-3 overtime victory. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, unranked Wright State, making their first ever tournament appearance, took down perennial powerhouse Notre Dame 3-2. The Raiders featured a fast-paced attack and clinched the game on a curling 25-yard blast into the upper right corner. The game was televised only by the ACC Network. The national championship between Georgetown and Virginia saw a 3-3 tie in regulation with two lead changes in the final five minutes, as well as a thrilling 7-6 penalty kick shootout to decide the title. The sport has the storylines, the upsets, the action and plenty more, so what else can be done to improve the popularity of the game? 

Improve the Scheduling
The NCAA could do a much better job of scheduling when it comes to soccer, as they often put games at inconvenient times for their target audience – college students – to watch. One example of this was the 2019 ACC Tournament. The ACC Tournament has teams host their first round games, which is a great idea to get student crowds, but their execution of this idea is less than ideal. When Notre Dame hosted Boston College in the first round of the ACC Tournament, the game was scheduled for 2pm on a Thursday afternoon. Why go through the effort of allowing teams to host postseason contests, only to schedule games at a time when the majority of college students can’t attend. The ND-BC game turned out to be a 2-1 overtime thriller, but only a few dozen students were able to watch the game unfold live. Such a scheduling catastrophe would never happen in basketball or on the gridiron, but in soccer? Who cares right?

Market the star players
Joe Burrow. Chase Young. Justin Fields. Trevor Lawrence. Those are just a few of the top college football names, and they are names that almost every casual sports fan would recognize. How many people would recognize the names Joe Bell, Robbie Robinson, or Dylan Nealis? Those were the three finalists for the Hermann Trophy, soccer’s Heisman, but nobody but avid fans of the game would know those names. ESPN is always posting insane graphics about record-breaking Burrow stats – post a damn soccer highlight here and there. The game has the potential to be popular, but it doesn’t help when you don’t market the players at all. 

Televise More Games
This works in tandem with point #1, but the NCAA, and colleges themselves, could do much better with making a TV-friendly schedule. Many schools play their soccer games on Friday nights and Saturday, and quite frankly, when you’re competing with football for television time, that’s not going to work. Saturday and Sunday belong to football, and so do Friday nights to an extend. Whether it’s afternoon games on Friday, or shifting games to Thursday nights, there’s got to be a better way to balance the schedule with football. NCAA Tournament games shouldn’t only be available regionally, and with major conferences like the ACC engaging in ranked clashes every week, there should be far more nationally televised games.

Interest in soccer is finally growing, and the collegiate game is the way to take advantage of that interest. It’s time for major sports channels and the NCAA to figure that out and giving soccer its fair share of respect. 

NCAA HOCKEY BEST POSTSEASON MOMENTS COUNTDOWN – #4: Jon Muse, BC, and a wildly dominant Frozen Four

Earlier in this countdown, we featured the team we declared the most dominant college hockey team to ever play as the 1992-1993 UMaine squad. But that team, as most teams do had to deal with adversity down the stretch, winning an overtime game in the Final Four and needing to overcome a two-goal deficit in the championship game. That’s how it’s supposed to be – the games get harder as the number of teams dwindle. That’s why with our #4 moment, we will be honoring the 2010 BC hockey team, which had possibly the most dominant Final Four in history. Along with the 2010 title, a notable achievement included in this #4 slot is the postseason acumen of goaltender Jon Muse, who improved his career NCAA Tournament record to 8-0. For their ridiculous postseason dominance, BC’s 2010 title team is our #4 moment in our NCAA Hockey postseason moments countdown.

BC entered the 2010 season coming off a rare disappointing campaign in 2009, but they were just one year removed from a title. In ten of eleven seasons from 1997 to 2008, the Eagles appeared in the NCAA quarterfinals, making the Frozen Four in eight of those years. They made six national championship games, and they took home the hardware twice. However, 2009 was a rarity, as the Eagles struggled an 11-11-5 record in Hockey East play. To add insult to injury, their season ended in the Hockey East semifinals with a 3-2 loss to archrival Boston University. The Eagles started the 2010 season looking to reclaim their usual perch around or at the top of the college hockey world. 

BC welcomed in a heralded freshman class which featured four players selected in the 2009 NHL draft, headlined by forward Chris Kreider (19th overall), and defensemen Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelson, and Patrick Wey. The talented freshman class made up for some graduation losses, and after a slow 2-2-1 start to the year, the Eagles turned on the gas. They went 8-1-1 in their next ten contests, including rivalry wins at BU and Harvard. After their only real rough stretch of the year, where they went 2-5, BC picked up steam once more and hardly looked back, finishing the year with nine wins and a tie in their final twelve games. All-in-all, BC finished 29-10-3 and, despite being higher ranked, they were second in the Hockey East standings to UNH. 

BC had a strong regular season, but it was their postseason that made their season remarkable. BC showed they had the offense to outduel teams in slugfests, beating UMass in game 1 of the playoffs 6-5, before flashing their spectacular defense with 5-2 and 3-0 wins to push into the championship against the fourth-seeded Maine Black Bears. In one of the most classic Hockey East title games, BC battled back and forth with a desperate Maine team that needed the Hockey East auto-bid to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. After a high-scoring game was not decided in regulation, BC shut the door on the Black Bears in overtime, claiming a 7-6 victory. The conference championship earned BC a #1 seed and the fourth overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

Behind a strong defensive performance, BC survived a mini-upset bid from Alaska in the regional semifinals. Alaska tied the game 1-1 on a power-play goal, but the Eagles took the lead back early in the third period, and behind Muse’s 28 saves and a late empty-netter, they pushed into the regional final against Yale. There, BC needed every ounce of offense they could get to survive an instant classic with the Bulldogs. 

BC looked to have the game very much in hand at various times, but Yale put up a fight to the very end, keeping the result in doubt. Maintaining a 3-2 edge, the Eagles snapped off three straight goals, two from Cam Atkinson, to seemingly put the Bulldogs away, leading 6-2 with under five minutes to play in the second. However, Yale stunned BC and the crowd by beating Muse twice in 1 minute and 17 seconds of game time to trim the deficit to two goals after two periods. In five prior NCAA Tournament games, Muse had given up a total of five goals, yet Yale had put up four on him in two periods, and they weren’t done. BC answered Yale’s surge in kind, with three consecutive goals, starting with Atkinson securing his hat trick and then two by Jimmy Hayes to give BC a comfortable 9-4 lead. They maintained that lead with seven minutes to play, but suddenly Yale made another run, striking three times in just over five minutes. While still trailing 9-7, the Bulldogs were within striking distance with 90 seconds to play, and they had put up 7 goals on a goalie giving up a goal per game in his NCAA tournament career. Muse stiffened and made a few saves to put away Yale, but it was a strange and very exciting contest with the result in doubt until the final minute. 

With that brief comeback scare in their rearview mirror, BC was never to be challenged again. Facing the top overall seed, Miami of Ohio, in the Frozen Four semifinals, the Eagles breezed past the Redhawks with remarkable ease. BC notched a goal late in the first period, and then tacked on two more in a 62-second span at the start of the second period for a commanding 3-0 lead. Unlike the Yale game, there would be no late surge, as Miami scratched out one goal, only to see BC respond with four more in the third period to take a massive 7-1 semifinal victory. 

In the national title game, BC faced another higher seed and Frozen Four veteran in Wisconsin. The Badgers were making their ninth title game appearance, and they were also coming off a dominating semifinal victory, an 8-1 destruction of RIT. Yet, even they could not slow down the avalanche that was the Boston College hockey team. To wrap up their run to the national championship, BC turned to defense first to hold onto a slim lead, before leaning on their explosive offense to finish off the Badgers. Ben Smith slotted one in for the Eagles in the first period for a 1-0 advantage they would hold through two periods. In that stretch, BC killed off two penalties, and Muse racked up fourteen saves. Then, in the third period, much like they had all year, the Eagles simply outskated their opponent in the final stages. Atkinson found the back of net less than two minutes into the period for a 2-0 lead, and the BC onslaught commenced. Just two more minutes of game time expired off the clock before Kreider tacked on another for the Eagles, and when Atkinson put away his second of the game, BC led 4-0 with 12:40 left to play. Wisconsin managed just six shots on Muse all period, all of which he turned away. The Badgers pulled their goalie with five minutes to play, but Matt Price fired one into the vacant net with 4:40 to play, icing the dominant 5-0 performance. Over four NCAA Tournament games, BC outscored their opponents 14-3 in the third period, and 24-9 overall. 

The Aftermath

Outside of the Yale game, Muse allowed just two goals in three games, and even with the Yale game, Muse’s career record in the NCAA Tournament improved to 8-0 with a 1.63 GAA. Including the Hockey East tournament, BC’s offense averaged 5.63 goals per playoff game, only falling short of five goals twice in the eight-game playoff run. 

BC’s run of dominance was not over, as they qualified for the next six NCAA tournaments. They made it to three Frozen Fours and won another title in 2012, making it three championships in five years. In that NCAA Tournament run, BC outscored their postseason opponents 16-2. BC has struggled in recent years, not making the tournament from 2017-2019, but the Eagles were back in full force this year, ranked fifth in the country before the unfortunate cancellation of the season. Despite his dominant playing career at BC, Muse went undrafted, but he has bounced around at various levels of professional hockey. He’s spent 9 seasons in the AHL, six in the ECHL, and spent the past season playing overseas.

Saturday’s ACC Recaps and Takeaways

The ACC was busy on Saturday, but there were a few yawners before a Notre Dame-Florida State thriller ended the day. Recaps and takeaways are here, as well as the one Sunday game still to be played in the conference.

Louisville 80 Clemson 62

The Game: Darius Perry scored 19 points, Samuell Williamson chipped in 14 points off the bench, and Louisville went on a 17-0 run in the first half to put away the Tigers with ease, the game never coming closer than 13 points in the second half. 

The Takeaway: Clemson is not a legitimate ACC contender. The Tigers had their inspiring underdog week, when they snapped a 59-game road losing streak to UNC and beat Duke at home, but they’ve lost two of three since then, and I don’t see the Tigers making any serious run in the ACC Tournament. 

UNC 94 Miami 71

The Game: Brandon Robinson balled out with 29 points for the Tar Heels, Armando Bacot had a double-double as UNC put up 51 points in the second half and rolled versus Miami to break  a 6-game skid. 

The Takeaway: Miami is the worst team in the ACC. They’ve lost 6 of 7 games with five of those losses by 16 or more points and three by 20+. They entered the day in a tie for last in the ACC with UNC, and they were run off the court by the Tar Heels, clearly highlighting their struggles to be competitive this year. 

Syracuse 69 Pittsburgh 61

The Game: Buddy Boeheim put up 21 points, Marek Dolezaj notched 17 points, and the Orange stayed hot, putting away the Panthers at home for their fifth straight ACC win. 

The Takeaway: Syracuse’s ability to win in different ways could be huge in March. The Orange beat Notre Dame in a shootout 84-82, but they relied on their defense to win on Saturday. During their current winning streak, four of their five wins have been 8 or less points – come March, their ability to win ugly close games could be clutch. 

Boston College 61 Virginia Tech 56

The Game: BC got 23 points from Jairus Hamilton and outscored the Hokies 35-25 in the second half to overcome a halftime deficit and win at home. 

The Takeaway: We have no idea what to expect out of BC. The Eagles beat Wake Forest and Notre Dame to start ACC play, but they lost four of their next five conference games, losing by 39, 18, 19, and 26 points. They lost to Pitt earlier in this week, but won today as an underdog – in conclusion? BC might be the worst or best team on your schedule depending on what version of the Eagles shows up.

Florida State 85 Notre Dame 84

The Recap: Highlighted by Wyatt Wilke’s 19 points 5 for 6 shooting performance from long range off the bench, Florida State shot 12/18 from deep as a team and held off a furious comeback by Notre Dame, who missed four shots in the final 15 seconds. 

The Takeaway: Notre Dame is the best in the country at almost making huge comebacks. As the final Irish shot fell short of its mark, John Mooney grabbed the ball and hucked it at the base of the hoop in frustration. The Irish fell to 2-5 in one possession game and have lost four games in ACC play by a total of 7 points. In all four games, the Irish came back from a double-digit deficit only to lose it in the final seconds.